(The next part of my Dialogue posts is coming, I promise! I just haven’t eavesdropped on anything recently, so I don’t have any examples. Have some character development instead. :D)
Long story short, I wandered onto a thread someplace advertising constructive criticism for OCs (original characters) in Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfiction. The critiquers give advice and hints about how to make a character less Mary-Sue-like (or scrap the character), and sometimes they point a writer to a website with a character chart. E.g.:
etc., only a lot more elaborate, like this one.
I have nothing against character charts–they’ve helped me in the past, and I’m sure I will use them again at some point in the future. But frankly, they don’t help me at all in the character creation process because they involve a lot of telling. Sure, it’s nice to have all of a character’s details down for continuity’s sake–but in my humble opinion, starting a character using a full character sheet isn’t necessarily the best way to build the character.
The exception: of course you want to know certain things about a character before you write–name, gender, age, general personality and physical characteristics, and possibly a bit of backstory. But do you need to know that her eyes are chartreuse and that her hometown is New York? Probably not, unless it’s important to the backstory. I hardly ever know everything about my characters before I write (sometimes nothing more than name, gender, and age)… And I’d like to think that my characters are pretty developed.
Now, here’s how I develop my characters:
“*le-gasp* Write? What? Don’t you need to know every single detail about the character before you write? TRAVESTY!”
Nope. Just start writing, even if it’s just a one-shot piece that has nothing to do with the overall story. By putting your character in different situations, you can see how he would react versus telling his reactions on paper. There’s nothing more like the heat of the moment to draw out reactions!
I’ll show you an example of something I wrote on the spot to delve into a certain character’s mindset.
Robert can say with complete honesty that he despises everything about high school. The teachers give too much homework (well, according to everyone else, he has no problem getting things done). The students don’t care about school and all they want to do is party and play sports. Robert suspects he might feel better if they tried to include him in their parties and get-togethers, even if he couldn’t go, but no one invites him to so much as a birthday party. He sits alone at lunch, every single day, without fail, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It kind of stinks.
Now, I don’t plan on using this paragraph anywhere in my story, but it helped me get into Robert’s mindset to see how he thinks. I have information now on his social status within in the school, and I also know what he eats for lunch today. This is relevant because he’ll end up meeting my hero over lunch, and PB&J is something the hero would notice.
So, my characters develop more the more often I write about them, which is part of what makes writing so fun for me. Hopefully you, my dear readers, will try it out and see if it works for you. 🙂
What’s your favorite method of developing characters? Does it work? Why do you think it does or doesn’t?